In part 1 of “Identity Crisis of an Evangelical,” I reviewed some experiences I’ve had over the years in evangelism itself that made me feel like an alien to the idea of evangelism as it is known in our culture.  I haven’t found any style of evangelism that I consider to be acceptable for me.

    I’m not sure what started this, but recently I have begun to question whether or not I can even consider myself an Evangelical.  Part of it is my repulsion toward much of American evangelical culture, which I derisively call “The Born-Again Subculture.”  But another more serious part of it is wondering how I can identify myself as an Evangelical when I really can’t relate to evangelism itself.

The Born-Again Subculture: Goofy

    First, I want to discuss The Born-Again Subculture.  I have always had some amusement at best, or scorn at worst, for the more goofy parts of The Born-Again Subculture.  Back in the 1970s, it was all the people running around declaring that the Rapture was going to happen at any moment.  All through the years, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard some nutty talk about how this or that situation happening in world events was related to some passage in Revelation and thus it was proof that the end was near...Jesus is coming any day now! 

    Another area of The Born-Again Subculture goofiness is in what Keith Green in the early ’80s termed “Jesus junk.”  It was bad then, and unfortunately it does not seem to have gone away.  A prime example of this are the paraphernalia that use popular trademarks and turn them into Christian evangelism.  One is the t-shirts that have the Coca-Cola trademark, with the words “Jesus Christ” written in the Coca-Cola script, and underneath the words, “He’s the real thing,” changed from Coke’s advertising campaign of “It’s the real thing.”  Another is the piece of plastic that looks like a MasterCard, which used to be called MasterCharge, with the words, “give CHRIST CHARGE of your life.”  I felt as Keith Green did, that these cheapened the message of the Gospel.

    I can’t even stand to go into Christian bookstores anymore.  They reek of Jesus junk and this sickening atmosphere permeated by Precious Moments kinds of figurines.  It’s a cutesy little world where everything is so blessed and unreal.  It nauseates me.

    All through my years, I have observed countless goofy crazes in  The Born-Again Subculture.  Something will come along that everyone will get riled up about that really makes no sense to bother with.  Remember backward masking?  In the 1980s there was hysteria about secret Satanic messages, that were backward masked on records, that may get into your head!  Yeah right.  This is only one of many such hysterias in the subculture.

The Born-Again Subculture: Arrogant

    But some things that bother me are more serious than some goofy hysteria.  Too often, people in The Born-Again Subculture suffer from being too sure of their rightness, which at its worst becomes arrogance and misguided actions that cause harm.  An early example of this that I can remember is when the pop singer BJ Thomas became a Christian in the late 1970s.  When he sang some of his old songs at his concerts (then attended mostly by Evangelical Christians), songs like “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head,” concert-goers would frantically rush to the stage to cast out the demons that were in him that were causing him to sing those secular songs.  He was treated so badly so frequently that he became bitter and left the scene.  Fortunately, over time he was able to overcome his bitterness about it and feels comfortable around Christians today, but why did people have to be so mean?  Of course, in their mind they weren’t being mean, they were trying to save his soul.  But their methods did not exude love.

    Today much social interaction occurs on the web.  In this interaction, such as discussion boards or commenting on blogs or articles, I see too many examples of Evangelicals who approach the world quoting the Bible in a way that’s like hitting people over the head with it.  I don’t know why they think that’s effective.  I guess they think they’re “preaching the Gospel.”  But the more I see this kind of thing, the more I don’t want to be associated with people like that.

Subculture vs. Beliefs

    Certainly these are the black sheep of Evangelicalism.  For a long time I was baffled why so many people in the general American culture felt Christians were hateful, because my experience with Christians has mostly been positive.  Certainly I think most Evangelicals are sincere, caring people who are level-headed, well-educated, and kind.

    Since the majority of Evangelicals are admirable people, any consideration of disassociating myself with Evangelicalism is not going to be primarily because of Evangelicals themselves, even though I have become tired of the random hysterias and fruitiness that permeates the subculture.  Though I definitely no longer associate with the Christian Right--I used to refer to the Christian Right as “we” but now I refer to the Christian Right as “them”--there are plenty of other Evangelicals who want nothing to do with the Christian Right.  When I consider whether or not I should consider myself an Evangelical, it’s based much more on the core meaning of what it is to be an Evangelical. 

    And what does that mean?  That’s what I’m pondering deeply about now.  By the sheer definition of the word, it must have something to do with evangelizing.  But since in my entire adulthood, I have never really participated in anything that would be considered evangelizing, how can I consider myself to be an Evangelical?

    I think up to this point, I considered myself an Evangelical even though I haven’t evangelized because it was the theological belief that I considered to be correct; my lack of evangelizing was simply my not living up to my beliefs.  Perhaps the current identity crisis has arisen because now I am beginning to doubt the premise of the evangelical world.  It goes like this: Become a Christian, then your duty is to help others become Christians.

Certainly it cannot be denied that there are elements of this theme in the New Testament.  But what bugs me is how the Evangelicals have taken two verses-- “You must be born again” and “Go into the world and preach the Gospel” -- and made them the focus of their entire  Christianity.  Why those two verses?  Why not choose, for example, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor”?  When Jesus said, “You must be born again,” he was talking to one person at one point in time.  That’s no different than when he said, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor”--he was talking to one person at one point in time. 

    Well, of course, the born again verse is a lot easier to swallow.  It’s easy to accept Jesus as your Savior (at least in this country) and rejoice, “I’m born again!”  It’s not easy to sell everything you have and give it to the poor.

    Jesus said to his disciples, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel.”  That wasn’t just one person.  But it seems from the Gospel narratives that Jesus also had his disciples leave their occupations and their families and spend all their time learning and doing ministry with him.  As you read when Jesus called each disciple, they dropped what they were doing and followed him.  If we’re going to follow what Jesus told his disciples when he said, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel,” why don’t we also follow his instructions when he had his disciples leave everything and do nothing but live with him?

The Balancing Act

    I’m sure someone can shoot down my logic here and find all kinds of ways I’m comparing apples to oranges.  I’m not trying to create theology here; I’m only trying to make a point, which is:  The Evangelicals, in my view, have focused strongly on particular sayings of Jesus’s ministry, while ignoring others.  The Evangelicals focus nearly exclusively on evangelism.  The Charismatics focus almost exclusively on faith and miracles.  The Mainliners focus on social justice.  Everybody emphasizes a part of the Gospel.  It seems we can’t be well-rounded and embrace it all in a balanced way.

    I would love to be a perfectly balanced Christian.  But though that may be my goal, I still have to start from somewhere.  That somewhere would best be with a group of people that I feel is “where I’m at” spiritually.  From there I can work on becoming a balanced Christian.  But I don’t see any group of Christians that as a group is completely balanced.  I think it’s like the different parts of the body of Christ.  When Paul talks about this, he seems to be referring to a particular congregation--within it, some are teachers, some healers, some prophets, some evangelizers, etc.  But all fit together to make up one body of Christ.

    But I think this can also apply to congregations or denominations within the body of Christ: each congregation or denomination contributes its strengths to the total body of Christ.  For example, while Charismatics tend to be too infatuated with signs and wonders, their strength in faith and believing big things from God have brought much good fruit to the Kingdom of God.  I think it’s natural for humans to concentrate in certain areas, not only individuals in a congregation but also congregations and denominations.  So I do not have a problem with these specializations.

    And that’s what I think I’m coming to in regard to Evangelicals.  In the typical Evangelical mindset, the Great Commission is “what it’s all about.”  This is a command of Jesus, and if you don’t obey it, then you are not obeying Jesus.  I am beginning to feel, however, that the Evangelical emphasis on the Great Commission is just that--an emphasis, a strength of that portion of Christ’s body.  Just as Paul acknowledges that not all individuals have the gift of evangelism, I say so also not all congregations or denominations have the the gift of evangelism.

    Gift or command?  I suppose that’s the point of contention.  Growing up in an Evangelical environment, I’ve always seen it as a command.  But now I’m wondering if it is instead a gift.  Yes, Jesus told his disciples, “Go into the all the world...,” but he also told them a lot of other things.  It’s not that we should pick and choose, but it seems that realistically, we tend to focus on certain commands.  While I cannot say that evangelism doesn’t matter, or that I don’t need to have evangelism on my radar screen in my quest for spiritual growth, I think it’s time to say that I’m going to officially relegate it to the back burner, where it has been unofficially anyway, and quit calling myself an Evangelical when I don’t even like evangelism and haven’t been doing any.  While I’m not going to say Jesus didn’t really command it, I am going to search for other commands of his that I can more readily focus on, that fit my “gifts” better. 

    But where does that put me?  With what group of people do I belong?  Which commands of Christ will I be able to more readily go after while evangelism is on the back burner?

(Continued in part 3....)


Pondering God & Church is a sub-website of J Lee Harshbarger’s personal website.  To visit other sub-websites, click the links below.

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My Blog

J Lee’s Soapbox is my “official” blog, where I post my latest thoughts on various topics.

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